[Stop-traffic] News/US: House committee passes guestworker bill

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: House committee passes guestworker bill
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Sun Sep 24 2000 - 12:17:56 EDT

House committee passes guestworker bill
By Michael Doyle, Scripps-McClatchy Western Service
The Knoxville News-Sentinel, September 20, 2000

WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved an
agricultural guestworker bill that one supporter predicted could
bring in 1 million foreigners a year to pick U.S. crops.

Before approving the controversial measure by a 16-11 vote, the
committee rejected efforts to cap the number of guestworkers at
100,000 a year.

"The 100,000 is not nearly enough to meet the demand," said Rep.
Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who as chairman of the House
immigration subcommittee is shepherding the guestworker bill.

Smith, who in 1996 joined a House majority in rejecting a different
guestworker bill, then went on to predict that growers' annual demand
for foreign farmworkers could sail as high as 1 million. The
legislation approved Wednesday by the House panel following two days
of debate sets no limit on the number of guestworkers.

By contrast, the politically influential high-tech industry is now
close to winning approval of its own foreign worker program that
would be limited to 200,000 a year.

The agricultural guestworker proposal, authored by Tracy Republican
Richard Pombo, still faces much more resistance than the high-tech
visa plan. Private negotiations on a package linking guestworkers,
worker protections and an immigration amnesty program have not yet
born fruit, and opponents of the current bill range from the Clinton
administration to House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Henry
Hyde, R-Ill.

Prospects remain uncertain at best for both the House and Senate
taking up the traditionally controversial guestworker bill before
Congress adjourns. Still, farmer advocates maintain the guestworker
efforts got a big public boost from the House Judiciary Committee's
willingness to favorably report the measure.

"It's certainly significant," said Lisa Dillabo of the California
Farm Bureau Federation. "This is an issue our organization has been
making a priority for a long time."

The committee's work Tuesday and Wednesday, though its final vote was
no surprise, illuminated the conflicts negotiators have had to face
in private. One significant question, for instance, is what farmers
must provide in the way of housing.

Pombo's original legislation would have allowed growers to provide
guestworkers with a housing voucher or cash. On Tuesday, following
some switched votes by Republicans, the panel changed that to require
housing for foreign guestworkers. On Wednesday, the panel considered
an amendment to change this again, allowing vouchers to be provided
in states where governors certify there's enough available housing.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, the Simi Valley Republican who wavered on the
issue Tuesday, termed this a fair response to the housing need.
Democrats, though, questioned the adequacy of an allowance they
predicted would run about $125 a month for individual workers in
Stanislaus and Fresno counties.

"Telling a worker you're going to give him a housing allowance, when
there's no housing available, is a very cruel trick," said Rep.
Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles.

Farmworker advocates prefer that housing be guaranteed, something
that farmers insist would be too costly and inefficient. The two
sides are likewise still divided over what sort of pay to guarantee
guestworkers. The legislation as written guarantees a minimum wage,
but beyond this there remain unresolved differences over calculating
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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